A Ryan Seacrest 'Today' gig would not be without risk
Word that Ryan Seacrest may be a candidate to succeed Matt Lauer on NBC's "Today" has many in the industry debating whether the radio personality/"American Idol" host/reality show mogul has the gravitas to anchor a morning news show.
All the morning shows have become more entertainment than news and the choice of anchors reflects that. "Today" has gone from Tom Brokaw to Bryant Gumbel to Matt Lauer, each having less journalistic credibility than his predecessor. Tapping Seacrest to succeed Lauer, whose contract is up at the end of next year, would just be the continuation of that trend. NBC probably figures that if a huge news story with global implications breaks in the morning, Seacrest can turn to the camera and deliver his patented "Seacrest out" catch phrase and let the professionals take over.
That won't be enough to satisfy the news purists who no doubt would see the hiring of Seacrest as a sign that the shift of the morning shows from news to pure fluff is complete.
"The 'Today' show is, despite all its Al Roker chuckling and Kathie Lee glugfesting, at least something of an actual news program," wrote Richard Lawson in the Atlantic Wire. "As silly as 'Today' can be, it also occasionally calls for a little gravitas. Lauer was live on air for a long time the morning of 9/11 and handled it as best as a jarred morning show host could. Can anyone really imagine Ryan Seacrest doing the same thing? It would be like watching a monkey on roller-skates deliver a eulogy. Well, no. It would be something far less amazing than that. It would just be wrong, is what we're saying."
Ultimately though "Today" is No. 1 and a cash cow and keeping it there, despite what the Columbia School of Journalism or some curmudgeonly columnists like this one think, is what matters to NBC and its parent Comcast Corp.
What is not being discussed as much but equally interesting is the risk Seacrest would be taking if he were to take the "Today" gig. Seacrest is already one of the hardest-working men in entertainment. He hosts a four-hour morning radio show every morning. He produces a slew of reality shows including all the Kardashian fare on E! and he is host of Fox's juggernaut "American Idol."
Odds are at least one of those gigs would have to go. He couldn't very well host a radio show in the morning and work at "Today." He could move the show to the afternoon, but that's when he's busy producing and making deals.
Fox probably wouldn't have a problem with Seacrest joining "Today" because it could help boost "American Idol." Would NBC let him co-anchor "Today" from Los Angeles a couple of times a week for six months when "American Idol" is on the air?
Even if Seacrest manages to juggle his heavy workload, there is another risk. What if it doesn't work? ABC's "Good Morning America" has already made inroads on "Today." This season. "Today" is averaging 5.4 million viewers and is ahead of "Good Morning America" by about 600,000 viewers. Last year at this time, "Today" had a lead of about one million viewers.
Lauer's departure could shrink "Today's" lead even more. He is hugely popular and has a loyal following. If his audience doesn't embrace Seacrest, ratings could tumble. Fair or not, Seacrest would be the one blamed.
So Seacrest's decision comes down to whether he wants to work even harder on a show which -- like all network news programs -- is waning in influence and risks damaging an incredibly successful track record in return for a few more bucks.
"Today" is still a great platform, but Seacrest has done pretty well creating platforms for himself and his shows. A better bet might be to wait until CNN tires of Piers Morgan and take that gig. It's less work and he wouldn't have to move to New York.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Ryan Seacrest. Credit: Matt Sayles/Associated Press.